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Letter from Louisville Kentucky to Ireland, Transcript – Oct 10th, 1839.

Irish Emigrant Letter home.

The following is a transcription  of a letter sent in 1839 by an Irish immigrant called Henry Neill to his parents in Ireland. The original letter with original calligraphy was published in full on this site 12 months ago.

“Louisville, KY.  Oct 16th 1839.

Dear Father,  Yours of the 6th April last came duly to hand at which time John wrote to you and as he expected an answer before he left I must say he was rather dissatisfied at the disappointment. 

He left this place on Saturday last on board the steamboat Wacousta bound to St.Louis from thence he will go further up the river & probably into the interior of the Territory of Iowa.  Our calculation is for him to buy a tract of land there or should he fail in that as soon as the winter sets in he will most likely go down to New Orleans & from thence to the Republic of Texas.  I have for some time past known but little of a country life being closely confined to the city but from information I can gather the farmers in this country are by far the happiest & independent part of the community.

And as I know you would wish to know something of the new countries, those to which the principal emigration is now (progressing?), are the states of Illinois, (Missouri?), Arkansaw (sic), together with the Territories of Wisconsin & Iowa, & last though not least the new & thriving Republic of Texas.

The price of land in this country is fixed by government at one dollar & a quarter an acre, but in addition a stranger going to a new country has to pay the squatter for his right the price of which may vary according to the location & improvements (if any), to explain this I may say these adventurers or what we call squatters go back into the new countries & settle upon a tract of land & live principally by hunting, then when the land comes to be sold by government orders, they having the (presumption?) right (if they wish) can get the land by paying $1.25 and acre (in preference?) to all others, but often the squatters not wishing to keep the land or probably not being able to pay for all they have claimed, sell their right of one portion to enable them to pay for the other or sometimes sell all & go further back & squat on another tract.

(?) but to return to the new states, Illinois is a free state as so will Iowa when it becomes a state (all new territories are admitted to the Union as soon as they contain a certain population).

Missouri is a slave state & therefore those emigrating to it are chiefly from Virginia and some others of the (old?) slave states with some French & Spaniards.  Those going to Illinois are from the eastern states with many (indecipherable?) Irish.  So with Iowa, this like many other names in this country is of Indian origin & means in our language Home or Sweet Home.

Texas is a vast extant of country adjoining the United States, it was formally under the government of Mexico but the inhabitants revolted and after many bloody conflicts have declared independence & formed a constitution similar to that of the (US?).  Every male emigrant to this country ((supposing?) to the constitution) receive a portion of the public land (grants?).

Your O’Connell has made a bold effort in the British House (Parliament) against consenting to the independence of this Republic but had it not been taken from a Papish government he would likely have kept silent on the subject slave system and all.

(I received?) a letter from John Arnold on Saturday last just in time for John to see it before he started (they are all well).  My health is well as John’s has been extremely good since we left you neither of us being confined for one day for a short time last Spring I was rather delicate at which time I took a trip to Cincinnati Ohio (after) which I have been perfectly healthy.

James Dixon is married.  He & his brother and their wives (illegible) Mrs. McKee who came out last season are all living in Pittsburgh.  Isabella Ringland is in Philadelphia & Abram still in his old situation with Myers.  I send you some of this country Newspapers from which you will see some of the divisions amongst us in politics.  Here the two great parties are one who calls themselves Whigs & calling the opposite party Loco focos – of course we belong to the Locos in Pennsylvania and many parts of the (text missing).

The great division is Mason and Antimason & in many parts (text missing)

Abolitionists (of which I could be willing one in number but that would be folly in Kentucky) are setting up great opposition to the slave system (I heartily wish them success as I am assured slaves are a curse to any country although the people here place great store by them & think they are their principal wealth a young lady here if she is possessed of a few negroes she is thought not common but rather above the ordinary (ladys?) though in my estimation being raised with those negro attendants is the very thing that renders her worthless so much for the maiden of Kentucky.

While the ladies of the sister states Indiana or Ohio only separated by the Ohio river have by good (illegible) exercise working with their own hands acquired a far more healthy (illegible) and appearance & are (text missing) with their own industry worth will worth the slave holding belle with all her train of Africans.

I wish you to write as soon as this comes to hand as most likely it is the last letter you will ever have to direct to Louisville. My engagement here which is at $25(?) a month will be up on the first of April next at which time I intend to leave unless I get a liberal advance in salary or something else unknown may occur.  I would therefore wish to hear from you before that time expires & I shall again write to you as soon as I can give you any information concerning the success John may have on his voyage or where he may have settled as he will write to me as soon as he can give me any satisfaction.  I board & lodge with the family of James McCrum (?) so did my brother until within a month or so of leaving us.

The times are rather worse here than some time ago as was expected for some time the banks have again stopped paying (ineligible) for any of their notes they had suspended some time before we landed in this country & again resumed some time after I came to Louisville & have this day for the first again have refused to redeem their notes.

There are in this city several churches, two Episcopal, three Presbyterian to the first of which I belong William L Breckinridge is our minister.  Last summer they built a splendid new church so did the Episcopalians. There are also Methodists, Baptists & many others yes it would take a (ineligible) to describe all the different Religious denominations in this city.  Although I verify but not more than two thirds of the population attend any church or religion at all.  Hoping this might find you and all my inquiring friends well as it now leaves me & wishing to hear from you as soon as convenient. 

I remain your distant son
Henry Neill.

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Irishman’s Letter From America – 1840. Never Seen Before.

Irish Immigrant letter 1840.

Can you help us solve a mystery?   This letter has not been seen for 183 years.  It is the 2nd in a series of approximately 20 letters.  The first Irish immigrant letter we have dates from 1836 and was digitized and published on this site 12 months ago.  The original letters still sit on a shelf in box in Ireland.  Using a non-flash iPhone I photographed the letters to preserve them for posterity.  I am making this 2nd digital copy available to you today, on the 4th of July, to celebrate the long shared history between America & Ireland; I hope you enjoy.

We are looking for clues & internet detectives.  Any assistance is greatly appreciated.  Given the handwriting, the language & tone, this is obviously a well educated immigrant.  What else can you derive from the content?  What happened to these Irish people after they landed in America?  Do they have descendants?  Feel free to take turns & transpose the content into the comments below to help us bring this 180 year old mystery full circle.
Yours, Charles Lord. M.Ed.

The letter begins “Louisville, KY.  Nov 16th 1840…. Dear Father, I again take my pen to write…”

Letter from America. 1840.

Irishman's letter home to Ireland from America. 1840.

Old immigrant letter from American to Ireland. 1840.

You can see from the stamps below, the letter was written Nov 16th 1840.  By Nov 23rd it was stamped in NY.  Did it travel by Pony Express?  The letter is also clearly stamped “Liverpool Ship Mail” so it probably sailed from New York to Liverpool England.  From England it would have made its way to Ireland.   Interestingly the letter is not addressed to Mr. Neill’s father; it is addressed “Care Mr. Robert Shaw, Silversmith.  Banbridge, Co. Down. Ireland.  I can only assume Mr. Shaw knew to keep the mail for the Neill family who were living on a farm a few miles outside town.  Perhaps they were members of the same congregation & could exchange correspondence for the mail on a Sunday.  Perhaps there was no Post Office in Banbridge, Co. Down, in 1840.  There is sufficient information there for to pull up some good background information.

It would be great to read your comments and insights in the comments below.

Stamped letter to Ireland from USA. 1840.

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Who are the Scots-Irish? A Beginners Guide.

I nearly called this blog post “Who were the Scots-Irish?”  But “were” is past tense, and the Scots-Irish of America are not a historical footnote, they live and breathe here in the United States today.  The problem is, many are simply not aware of their Scots-Irish roots.

Scottish Lowland Roots:

The Scots-Irish began their journey to America from the Lowlands of Scotland.  The Scottish Lowlands is an area from the Clyde in the East across to the Firth of Forth in the West, and everything south, all the way to the English border.  The Scots-Irish are primarily, but not exclusively, Presbyterian.  They first arrived in Ulster (in the Northern part of Ireland) in 1604.  They lived in Ireland for approximately 100 years before the beginning of the Great Migration to the American Colonies in 1718.  That is not to say all the Scots-Irish migrated “en masse” to North America.  To the contrary there are approximately 800,000 Protestants still resident in Ulster, many of whom are Scots-Irish Presbyterians, while others are of English, Welsh or even French Huguenot heritage.   At this point I would like to note that the Scots-Irish living in Ulster today use the term “Ulster-Scots” rather than Scots-Irish.  As the term Scots-Irish is used exclusively in America, and as we are in the United States, I will use the term Scots-Irish in this blog.

There were three waves of Scottish migration to Ireland in the early part of the 17th Century.   The first Scottish settlement came in 1604 to 1605.  Influential Irish landowner Randal MacDonnell, in a deal with King James 6th of Scotland (who also became King James the 1st of England),  was granted extensive additional land in North Antrim.  This land grant of “The Route” was agreed providing Randal MacDonnell settled the new lands with Scottish Protestants.  An agreement was made which may have increased MacDonnell’s holdings in the area up to 300,000 acres.  This deal was unusual at the time as Randall MacDonnell was a Catholic, there was even a chapel in his residence at Dunluce Castle.  However, MacDonnell acquired the land and therefore more wealth, while James (now King of both Scotland and England) increased the Protestant population of Ulster, Protestants being considered more loyal to the crown than the native Irish.  So both these powerful men were happy with the arrangement and the ensuing plantation.

The 2nd wave came came in 1606 with Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton.  This was a private undertaking by these two prominent Scottish Landowners, whereby they acquired two thirds of the land of native Irish Chieftan Conn O’Neill.  This acquisition seems a little opportunistic, if not downright deceitful.  But more on this little piece of intrigue in another post.  Having acquired the land of Conn O’Neill, Montgomery and Hamilton sent over tenants from their estates in the Scottish Lowlands, places such as Dumfries & Galloway & Ayrshire.  They settled primarily the North Down area of Ireland, areas such as Comber, Bangor, Donaghadee, Newtownards and further along the Ards Peninsula.  It is thought between 1604 to 1607 around 10,000 Scots migrated to Ulster as part of the MacDonnell, Montgomery & Hamilton enterprises.  It is thought the success of these first two plantations influenced King James in his subsequent decision to grant the Charter for the 1607 Jamestown Settlement in Virginia.

Thirdly came the official plantation.  King James was enthused by the success of the two previous enterprises, but in 1607 a major event also took place, the Flight of the Earls.  This happened in Sept 1607 when the Irish nobility fled from Rathmullan on Lough Foyle to Continental Europe in an attempt to evade persecution, and rally Catholic support for their cause.  By 1608 King James of England took the opportunity to seize the large landholdings of these native Irish Cheiftans and settle them with Protestant subjects.  The official Plantation of Ulster had begun.  Initially King James wanted the Plantation to be available to both English & Scottish Protestant subjects, but for a variety of reasons the Scottish Presbyterians were the great majority of settlers.

The Scots-Irish remained in Ireland for generations, approximately 100 years.  They made a living from farming and trading in the growing towns such as Derry / Londonderry and Belfast.  They lived through the Irish rising of 1641, the Siege of Derry in 1689 and the Battles of the Boyne, Aughrim and Limerick from 1690 to 1691. They brought with them to Ireland many Scottish customs, speech patterns, architecture etc.  But they also adopted many Irish traits during their long soujourn in the Emerald Isle.  By 1718 they began to migrate to the New World.

Battle of Aughrim by John Mulvaney
The Battle of Aughrim 1691, by John Mulvaney.

This migration began in earnest in 1718.  The Scots-Irish who came to America were almost entirely Presbyterian.  At the time in Ireland they were considered “Dissenters”.  This meant they were not congregants of the Established Church of England (in Ireland known as the Church of Ireland), with the English monarch as head.  Also, because of their “dissenter” status, some of the harsh Penal Laws designed primarily for the native Irish Catholics also applied to the Presbyterians.   For example, the Penal Laws meant the Scots-Irish could not be elected to public office & therefore could not effect the laws by which they were governed.  They also had to pay “tithes” (taxes) to the Established Church even though they did not worship there. These “tithes” would have been used to pay for the upkeep of the Established Church and not their own Presbyterian churches & preachers.  Both the Presbyterians and the Catholics greatly resented this law.  In addition, economic circumstances caused rents to rise rapidly during this period while incomes fell.  Here I examine in more depth these reasons “Why the Scots-Irish Came to America”.  But for now, suffice to say, between 1718 and 1770 there took place a Great Migration of Scots-Irish to the American Colonies.  On the eve of the American Revolution in 1775, more than 250,000 Scots-Irish called the New World home.  It is said that “one in six” of the Colonists were Scots-Irish.

Andrew Jackson defies British Officer
Teenage Andrew Jackson defies British Officer and is cut by a sword. He carried the scar and his dislike for the English for rest of his life. As a man Jackson would meet the British again at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.  The British would pay a heavy price, Jackson’s revenge was was devastating.

Their significant role in the ensuing American Revolution cannot be overstated.  Indeed, King George of England referred to it as the American Revolution as the “Presbyterian Rebellion”.  The Scots-Irish experience at the hands of the English in Ireland was fresh in their minds, stories handed down from father to sons and daughters.  By way of example, President Andrew Jackson’s parents had a farm just outside Carrickfergus in Ulster.  They were both born in Ireland as was Jackson’s older brother. The family sailed for America around 1765.  Their home life in the U.S. would have been a Scots-Irish existence.  The  music, food, farming techniques, construction techniques, dance, speech patterns, bible teachings etc would all have been heavily informed by their lives in Ireland.  Andrew Jackson and his two older brothers all fought in the American Revolution.  This life experience was replicated in Scots-Irish regions throughout the nation.  Taxation without representation was not going to wash in the New World; the Scots-Irish were angry and would fight for their rights.

Charles Lord. M.Ed